US equities eke out modest weekly gains amid economic data

US stocks posted modest gains in the week, as investors digested a slew of newly-released economic data while grappling with the uncertain fate of the further coronavirus stimulus in the country.

For the week ending Friday, the Dow gained 1.8 per cent, the S&P 500 rose 0.6 per cent and the Nasdaq was up 0.1 per cent, Xinhua news agency reported on Saturday.

The S&P US Listed China 50 index, which is designed to track the performance of the 50 largest Chinese companies listed on US exchanges by total market cap, logged a weekly decline of 2.3 per cent.

“We’re in a moment in history where few things seem normal, and there are many unknowns,” Mitch Zacks, CEO at Zacks Investment Management, said in a note on Saturday.

“This dynamic also means that several economic data points have also moved into ‘first-time-in-history’ territory,” he said, while recommending investors to stay calm and focus on the fundamentals in a chaotic time.

Latest data showed US retail sales in July increased less than expected, indicating spiralling new COVID-19 infections threatened the economic recovery.

US retail sales rose 1.2 per cent last month after advancing 8.4 per cent in June, the Commerce Department reported on Friday. Economists polled by MarketWatch had forecast a 2 per cent increase.

Moreover, US initial jobless claims, a rough way to gauge layoffs, registered 963,000 in the week ending August 8, following an upwardly revised 1.191 million in the prior week, the Department of Labor reported on Thursday.

It marked the first time US weekly claims have dipped below one million since the economic shutdown sparked by the coronavirus pandemic began in March.

“The drop in claims reflects economic reopening, but it also suggests the expiration of federal supplemental unemployment benefits may have convinced some people to stop collecting and find work,” Chris Low, chief economist at FHN Financial, said in a note on Thursday.

On other data front, US consumer price index increased 0.6 per cent in July, matching the rise in June, with gasoline accounting for a quarter of the gain, the Labor Department reported Wednesday.

Wall Street also looked to Washington for clues on further coronavirus stimulus as US lawmakers continued to wrangle over the package.

More than 5.33 million confirmed COVID-19 cases have been reported in the United States with death over 169,000 as of Saturday afternoon, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Looking ahead, experts said a diversified approach is very important in an environment full of uncertainties.

“In a world awash in liquidity and with companies doing a little better than expected, the case for a well-diversified portfolio is paramount,” said Zacks.

“We remain positive on the outlook for risk assets, but investors may need to employ different strategies to optimize their portfolio for the next phase of the recovery,” UBS Global Wealth Management’s Chief Officer Mark Haefele said in a note earlier this week.

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